Low-frills performance at the right price, and a design that doesn’t scream “cheap”, the MSI Modern 15 laptop is a sound buy if you can get on with its undersaturated display.
- Affordable pricing
- Good performance for the money
- Looks quite slick for a budget laptop
- Poor colour reproduction
- 5.5-hour battery life
- UKRRP: £599.99
- 12th Gen Intel CPUThe MSI Modern 15 is among the early wave of more affordable 12th Gen Intel CPU laptops, which can deliver up to double the peak performance of last-generation models
- Matte displayA matte screen makes reflections less of an issue than they are on a glossy display: you won’t see a reflection of your face staring back at you
- 180-degree hingeThis isn’t a hybrid laptop; there’s no touchscreen, but the hinge does fold back by 180 degrees as opposed to the usual 135 degrees
The MSI Modern 15 is a budget laptop that performs similarly for everyday jobs and tougher productivity tasks to some models costing twice the price.
It’s a classic “meat and potatoes” laptop – but, as the name suggests, those potatoes are more dauphinoise than bare boiled spuds. The MSI Modern 15’s casing looks sleek for what is a fairly pragmatic computer. And, for the most part, it feels good too.
Intel 12th Gen CPU power and a 512GB SSD is a sound deal at £500. So where’s the catch?
The MSI Modern 15’s colour reproduction is poor, and battery life won’t stretch to a full day of work. In addition, if you’d rather a slim, light, aluminium laptop, then you should also check out the Acer Swift 3 line – although at the time of review, the price of Intel 12th Gen models is unknown.
Keep your expectations in check and the MSI Modern 15 is a good way to get solid performance without spending a fortune. It costs £499 with a Core i5 CPU, £599 with a Core i7.
- All-plastic, but fairly good-looking design
- 1.7kg is a bit heavy for every day portable use
- Good panel stiffness
MSI calls the Modern 15 an ‘ultra-slim’, ‘ultra-light’ laptop. But that may be a stretch: it weighs 1.7kg and is 20mm thick. That’s slim and light for a gaming laptop, but an ordinary one like this? Not so much.
However, I think MSI approaches that ‘ordinary’ style from just the right angle. This is an all-plastic laptop, but I don’t think it looks much less slick than the far higher-end MSI Summit E16 Flip Evo.
Its keyboard plate is smooth black plastic, as is the lid. This can often feel cheap, but doesn’t here because of the almost soft-touch finish. The rigidity of the screen and bottom half is great, too.
MSI uses rougher plastic for the underside, but this isn’t really a concern.
The MSI Modern 15 features a single USB-C port. There are also two very slow USB 2.0 ports – use these to plug in a mouse and keyboard for a desktop-style setup, but not external storage. Having just two moderately fast connections feels a bit stingy.
A HDMI port sits on the left side, and lets you plug in a TV or monitor easily – but, again, it’s a fairly low-spec connector. It’s rated for up to 4K/30 output only, suggesting it’s a HDMI 1.4 port, and not the far better HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 2.1 type. There’s also a microSD slot.
The MSI Modern 15 has a 720p webcam. Lots of manufacturers have started upgrading to 1080p this year, but there was no chance of that in an affordable laptop such as this. The image is quite soft, and becomes desaturated in anything but great lighting. However, I’ve seen worse in laptops that are significantly more expensive. Noise handling in poor lighting is solid.
Not surprisingly, the speakers aren’t great. There’s very little bass and maximum volume is conservative. However, as long as you steer clear of the sound-mangling EQ options, the MSI Modern 15 does at least sound coherent and inoffensive. It isn’t super-boxy or harsh; it’s just a bit of a wallflower.
The lower you descend in price, the more notable features that we take for granted in high-end laptops become. Take the keyboard backlight. The MSI Modern 15 has a three-level white backlight that shines through the translucent sides of the keys. Some laptops at the price have no backlight at all.
The MSI Modern 15’s keys feel decent, too. They have a solid 1.5mm travel (which is above average in 2022), don’t seem too spongy, and have a quiet depress response. No complaints here.
MSI also fits in a NUM pad without making the main section of the keyboard too off-centre, using smaller scale keys.
The touchpad is more obviously compromised by cost. It’s a plastic pad and, perhaps thanks to the internal construction of the Modern 15, the click resonance feels a bit hollow.
However, for a cheaper laptop it’s perfectly decent. The surface is smooth, and it doesn’t have any pre-click wobble. This isn’t a great touchpad, by any means, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
- Poor colour saturation
- Good contrast
- Brightness is largely only fit for indoor use
The slim borders of the 15.6-inch LCD screen also contribute hugely to the “modern” look that MSI is aiming for here. However, the quality of the MSI Modern 15 panel is mixed.
Colour reproduction is poor; it covers only 58% of sRGB. This level of undersaturation is immediately obvious if, say, you have app icons on your desk that you also see regularly on your phone. The MSI Modern 15 simply can’t render deep, vivid reds, greens and so on, giving the display a slightly weak, pastel look.
Maximum brightness is fairly low, too, at 270 nits. The MSI Modern 15 has a matte display, preferable for outdoor use, but with such limited brightness, it will likely struggle when there’s lots of ambient light.
These should be deal-breakers for many – but, I have to say, I’ve found some ultra-vivid, 15.6-inch OLED screens far more disappointing than the Modern 15’s screen.
There’s no obviously visible pixel structure, even though the 1080p resolution leads to a low pixel density at 15.6 inches. And contrast is as good as you could ask for in an LCD laptop, at around 1300:1.
The MSI Modern 15 display is poor in a couple of key respects, but I still like it – at least in the context of a laptop that starts at under £500.
- Very good CPU performance
- Lesser gaming performance than some 11th Gen slim-and-light laptops
- Erratic fan behaviour in some performance modes
The MSI Modern 15’s whole reason to exist is to provide good performance for sensible money. You could spend this much and still end up with a Chromebook, a Windows model with 4GB of RAM, or – shudder – an Intel Pentium processor.
There’s none of that in the Modern 15. My review laptop came with the Core i7-1255U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
The similarly priced Acer Swift 1 rival comes with a relatively puny Pentium N6000 CPU. In Geekbench 5, that laptop might score around 1300 points. The MSI Modern 15 scores 6900 points – a disparity so wide it’s almost comical.
|MSI Modern 15||Acer Swift 3 (2021)||Surface Laptop Go 2|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-1255U||AMD Ryzen 5 5500U||Intel Core i5-1135G7|
|Geekbench 5 single/multi||1758 / 6958||1119 / 5269||1364 / 3899|
While you’ll find similarly powerful laptops at this price months (and months) after I’m reviewing the MSI Modern 15, it’s actually quite rare to see such complete laptops with an “RRP” this low. Take the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 as an example. It’s a nicer-feeling laptop than the Modern 15, with prices starting at £529. Tempting.
However, that’s with 4GB of RAM and a dismal 128GB SSD. You reach £729 before you get close to the £499 Modern 15, and it still has half the storage, and a much older processor.
The Modern 15 would make a great laptop for someone looking for a fairly affordable computer for more taxing jobs such as video and photo editing. However, if you care about colour performance then you’ll want to plug in a monitor. The built-in display is just too undersaturated for colour-critical work.
I wouldn’t recommend the Modern 15 for gaming, either. It uses Intel Xe integrated graphics, like last-gen models. In addition, a 3DMark Time Spy score of 1508 is lower than that of an Intel Core i7-1165G7 laptop, by about 15%. I felt this difference when trying to play Control; it just about scrapes by on good last-gen systems, but here dipping significantly below 30fps seems pretty much unavoidable.
If gaming is a priority, look at budget models such as the Asus TUF series. You can find models online with older-generation CPUs, but proper discrete graphics cards, for similar money.
Note that the MSI Modern 15’s fan noise can become annoying when the laptop is under strain. It suffers the classic high-pitch sound of a small diameter fan, and I’ve noticed it spinning up and down with no provocation.
However, as is the case with its higher-end laptops, MSI offers great control over the Modern 15’s fan behaviour and general performance. There are AI, High Performance, Balanced, Quiet and Super Battery modes. The last one more than halves the maximum power draw of the CPU, while the Quiet mode is still more than powerful enough for light work and does seem to largely avoid any fan-related irritations.
- 5.5-hour battery life isn’t good for all-day use
- Non-upgradeable RAM
- Charge over cylindrical socket or USB
I ran PCMark’s Modern Office benchmark using the default AI performance mode, and the MSI Modern 15 lasted 5hrs 23mins. Using Super Battery, it lasted 5hrs 28mins.
This isn’t what I look for in a laptop. Eight hours plus is a comfortable minimum, and we’re not even close here. But this sort of longevity is also what I tend to find in these low-frills, good performance computers.
MSI sells the Modern 15 with two different battery capacities, although if you’re in the UK then you’re likely to get what I have here. I cracked open the back to see the capacity: it’s a 39.3Wh unit, while the higher-capacity version has a 52Wh unit. The latter will last significantly longer, but I don’t fancy your chances of finding that model in the UK.
The MSI Modern 15 uses a cylindrical charging socket, not a USB-C. But that does mean that one USB-C port is free for other uses. It’s a slower USB 3.2 Gen 2 port, not a Thunderbolt one, matching the speed of the fatter USB-A connector.
Some good news: you can use the USB-C to charge alongside the power socket. This means that if your charger dies, or you lose it, you don’t need to get a potentially pricey “official” one; just a high-power USB-PD adapter.
Should you buy it?
You’re looking for a budget-friendly productivity laptop:
This is a solid no-frills laptop offering good general performance, and the design doesn’t look or feel too cheap, which earns it bonus points at this budget-constrained level.
You want a high-quality display:
Colour saturation is arguably too low for a lot of image-related jobs and it doesn’t last all that long off a charge as a result of a relatively low-capacity battery.
The MSI Modern 15 is a budget laptop with enough power and storage for taxing productivity jobs. A Dell XPS 13 with similar internals costs twice as much. And unlike a lot of basic, pragmatic laptops, the MSI Modern 15 has a low-key sense of style; it doesn’t immediately look or feel too cheap.
There are a couple of issues that a lower price can’t eclipse, however. This laptop’s colour saturation is poor, and while the screen looks remarkably good considering how weak the colour is, photo editors and video creators should consider whether this is too big a hurdle to get over.
The MSI Modern 15’s battery isn’t fit for all-day use, either – although MSI does have a higher-capacity model in some countries for which lasting the day shouldn’t be a problem. Other cheap Windows laptop options include the Surface Laptop Go 2 and Acer Swift 3, but the MSI is nevertheless an excellent option if you fancy a 15.6-inch display.
How we test
Every laptop we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including build quality, performance, screen quality and battery life.
These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real world checks, such as how well it runs popular apps.
We used as our main laptop for at least a week.
Tested the performance via both benchmark tests and real-world use.
We tested the screen with a colorimeter and real-world use.
We tested the battery with a benchmark test and real-world use.
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The RAM is soldered to the motherboard, so it isn’t upgradable.
It uses Intel Xe graphics, which can handle older games reasonably well. It doesn’t have a discrete graphics card, so isn’t ideal for gaming.
It has a non-touch display with a matte finish.
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